The Detroit Lions were reminded on Sunday about one of preseason football’s most unpleasant facts: You can’t win anything meaningful in the first game of the exhibition season, but you can certainly suffer major losses.
The Lions won 24-10 over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon, but that doesn’t matter. After all, they went 4-0 in the 2008 preseason, then posted the NFL’s first (and still only) 0-16 season once the games started to count.
Instead, the important takeaway from Sunday’s game is the Achilles tendon injury to defensive end Kerry Hyder. For a team that struggled badly to rush the passer a year ago, there are fewer more discouraging injuries than the player who led the team with eight sacks in 2016.
The Lions don’t yet have final test results on Hyder, but coach Jim Caldwell said it was a “significant” injury. It likely will require surgery and finish Hyder’s season in the first few minutes of a meaningless game.
Hyder wasn’t originally expected to be a significant factor for the Lions, but he changed everything last season. He wasn’t drafted after a four-year career at Texas Tech, and spent the 2014 season on the New York Jets practice squad.
He went to camp with the Lions in 2015 and ended up back on the practice squad. He got into one game, and after the season, signed a full-time contract for 2016. He was on the bubble once again, but made the 53-man roster with three sacks in the final preseason game.
In Week 1, he sacked Andrew Luck twice, and had one sack in each of Detroit’s next three games. By that point, with Ziggy Ansah sidelined by the high ankle sprain that would plague him all season, and Hyder was the only significant pass rusher left on the roster.
He had six sacks at the season’s midway point, but offensive coordinators were able to make adjustments, and he only had two in the final eight games.
Even if Ansah were 100 percent – he’s on the PUP list for what the Lions term precautionary reasons — Hyder would have still been an important part of the rotation at defensive end. General manager Bob Quinn was able to fill several holes during free agency and the draft, but he didn’t add an established pass rusher, nor did he select a promising one in April.
Without Hyder, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will have to find a new way to get pressure on the quarterback. Otherwise, opposing quarterbacks will have all the time they need to pick apart Detroit’s pass defense – a major problem in 2016.
If the Lions got any important positive news on Sunday, it was the performance of third-round pick Kenny Golladay. The wide receiver caught three passes for 53 yards in the first half, including two touchdowns.
Golladay started his college career at North Dakota, but transferred to Northern Illinois for his final two seasons. In those two years, he caught 160 passes for 2,285 yards and 18 touchdowns, and the Lions are hoping he can replace Anquan Boldin as a possession receiver and red-zone specialist.
Last season, Boldin only averaged 8.7 yards on 67 catches, but scored eight times. If Golladay can come close to that performance, he’ll give Matthew Stafford a third option in the passing game to go along with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate.
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